The mortgage fraud trial of a former Eagles player and his 74-year-old mother took an unexpected turn in a Mount Holly courtroom Thursday when the key prosecution witness admitted during cross-examination that he told a prosecutor that he did not believe the woman was aware she was participating in an illegal scheme.
William Barksdale, a mortgage broker already serving a sentence for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, was testifying at the trial of Irving Fryar and Allene McGhee. The state Attorney General's Office contends they were coconspirators with Barksdale in defrauded seven lending institutions in South Jersey and Philadelphia of more than $1.2 million in 2009.
Fryar was a wide receiver for the Eagles and a Pro Bowl selection five times during a 17-year NFL career. His mother is a retired Willingboro school bus driver.
The defense argues that Fryar, 52, and McGhee were unwitting dupes of Barksdale, of Levittown, who has testified that he learned how to cheat banks while flipping houses in Florida.
Confronting Barksdale on Thursday, lawyer Mark Fury, who represents McGhee, asked whether he told Deputy Attorney General Mark Kurzawa that "Ms. McGhee didn't know anything about the legality of any of it." Barksdale said he made that statement to Kurzawa, though it was not clear when.
Kurzawa and another deputy attorney general, John Nicodemo, are prosecuting the case before a jury. Superior Court Judge Jeanne T. Covert is presiding.
Barksdale also testified that he helped McGhee apply for six home equity loans in a short period of time, when she repeatedly used her $200,000 house as collateral without informing the banks about the multiple loans. Barksdale also said he selected the banks, picked up the applications, drove McGhee to the closings, sat in on some of them, and advised her to put his cellphone number on at least one application in case the bank had follow-up questions.
Barksdale, currently serving a 20-month federal sentence in connection with this scheme and others that he orchestrated for three other clients, said he had not gone so far as to advise McGhee to falsely claim on the applications that she earned $72,000 to $84,000 as an event coordinator for Fryar's church, New Jerusalem House of God in Mount Holly.
After retiring from football in 2001, Fryar founded the church and is its minister. The state contends that Fryar approached Barksdale about helping him get money to pay off his debts and that Fryar received about $200,000 in the scheme.
Fury pressed Barksdale about how much help he provided to McGhee, noting a bank officer previously testified that Barksdale had given the bank McGhee's wage information and falsified supporting documents, including a W-2 form.
"Those are two different questions - did I provide it, or did I drop it off?" Barksdale said. He said that he had given the bank the wage documents, but added that they were "in a sealed envelope" and that he only handed it to the bank.
Asked about his experience as a mortgage broker and investment adviser, Barksdale estimated that he had done about 550 "deals" in about six states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Florida, between 1996 and 2008. His mortgage license came from Georgia.
Under questioning by Fryar's attorney, Michael Gilberti, Barksdale said he had admitted in federal court that he defrauded 10 or more banks of $1 million to $2.5 million, and had assisted five clients in illegally obtaining the money. Barksdale also admitted that he personally received more than $1 million in gross receipts.
While he could have faced a maximum of 30 years, his cooperation and willingness to testify against his clients had reduced his sentence to 20 months, according to court documents. Barksdale said he began serving time last July and expects to be released between August and October of this year based on good-behavior credits. He also says he plans to petition the federal court to reduce his time even further after testifying against McGhee and Fryar. He has filed a motion contending his lawyer provided "ineffective counsel" and has asked for a lesser sentence.
Barksdale testified that he first met Fryar in 2008 when the two were rehabilitating houses and flipping them in separate businesses. Later, he said, the two set up a summer fitness camp in South Jersey for youngsters that Barksdale would run and where Fryar would make appearances and sign autographs.
When Fryar's house in Springfield Township, Burlington County, went into foreclosure in 2009, Fryar asked him for help, Barksdale testified. Barksdale said he arranged for McGhee to obtain a mortgage on the house for about $400,000, less than half its $900,000 value. Barksdale said that he also obtained a $75,000 loan from a short-term loan company so that Fryar could make a down payment on the house. That loan, and other money Fryar owed, was paid off after McGhee obtained loans from six banks in December 2009, Barksdale said.
The trial is slated to continue Tuesday.